Five research centers in the U.S. have received a total of nearly $35 million in grants to focus on the safety of natural products and the ways they work in the body, as well as the development of cutting-edge research technologies.
The centers, jointly funded by the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements and the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, include three that focus on botanical dietary supplements and two that work on natural product innovation and data dissemination.
Natural products include substances produced by plants, bacteria, fungi and animals that have historically been used in traditional medicine and other complementary and integrative health practices, according to a news release.
Many of the botanical supplements proposed for study by these centers — such as black cohosh, bitter melon, chasteberry, fenugreek, grape seed extract, hops, maca, milk thistle, resveratrol, licorice and valerian — are among the top 100 supplements consumed in the United States based on sales data, according to the release. Nearly 1 in 5 U.S. adults uses botanical supplements and other nonvitamin, nonmineral dietary supplements, such as fish oil/omega-3 fatty acids and probiotics, according to the 2012 National Health Interview Survey.
“Natural products have a long and impressive history as sources of medicine and as important biological research tools,” Josephine Briggs, MD, NCCIH director, said in the release. “These centers will seek not only to understand potential mechanisms by which natural products may affect health, but also to address persistent technological challenges for this field by taking full advantage of innovative advances in biological and chemical methodology.”
The grants have been awarded to study the following.
• Researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York City, will study mechanisms through which polyphenol-containing dietary supplements derived from grapes promote cognitive and psychological resilience to common psychological stresses including sleep deprivation. The research also will seek to understand the role human gastrointestinal microflora affects cognitive and psychological health.
• The Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, has in the past evaluated botanicals that could be used to prevent metabolic syndrome, which is related to diabetes and heart disease. Now researchers will study whether botanicals can promote metabolic resiliency in the presence of stressors such as a high-fat diet or inflammation.
• Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have focused on the safety and mechanisms of action of botanicals such as black cohosh, hops and licorice used by women to maintain health and quality of life, especially during menopause. Now the team will characterize and standardize complex botanical products, focusing on the interactions of those products with estrogens and prescription drugs.
• Researchers at the Center for High-throughput Functional Annotation of Natural Products at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas and Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, will use their expertise in the chemistry of natural products and data analytics to disseminate data to the greater scientific community through a searchable data-driven website.
• The UIC Natural Products Technology Center, based at the University of Illinois in Chicago, will use state-of-the-art research technologies to gather biological data of natural products. The researchers will produce documentation of good research practices for natural products and develop and share methodologies that advance a more holistic research approach regarding natural products and their metabolic complexity.
The ODS initiated the Botanical Research Centers Program in partnership with the NCCIH in 1999, in response to a Congressional mandate.
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